Television Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender

I take a look at a show that has been described as one of the best cartoons on television.  Does it live up, or does fail to meet expectations?

avatar_the_last_airbender

imdb amazon-black-icon Netflix

I started watching Avatar: TLA for the first time in 2010, as part of the opening lineup for Man in Black Reviews.  I’m not sure if The Last Airbender had been announced before I started watching it or not, but when I realized that it was happening, it did set a deadline for me.  I tend to get really engrossed in a show, or not watch it.  I think  Power Rangers Samurai is the only show that I’ve watched start to finish that didn’t really suck me in, and I only finished that because I was heavily invested in what came before.  Eventually, I will need to watch a terrible show and review it start to finish, but this is not that show.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that is made better in our minds by a combination of nostalgia, a terrible movie, and an average sequel. It is remembered as one of the best shows ever to air on Nickelodeon, but as public opinion of the show has been improving since the terrible M. Night Shyamalan adaptation pointed all all of the flaws it didn’t have, that’s not necessarily saying anything; Spongebob Square Pants would look like a masterpiece by comparison. So the question remains, how good isAvatar: TLA?

Well, there are certainly lots of things to like about Legend of Aang, as the show was called in parts of the world where airbending apparently refers to a real-world movement of the air. The characters are full and across the spectrum, from the brooding and angry anti-hero, to the gifted and child-like hero, to the wise and hilarious veteran, to the Muggle who wants to be more than the comic relief. The villains range from the power-mad, to mad at the world, to just mad. Avatar (as it was called prior to the James Cameron film) introduces a rich fantasy world, with many more elements than simply the superpowered beings that decide the power and ideological struggles of the world to make it fully unique (if somewhat obviously based on Eastern ideologies and religions). Unlike many fantasy worlds, however, this is a world that is changing and moving forward: introducing science. However, in a world where steam is as easy to obtain as a snap of the fingers, science takes a route more likely to appeal to fans. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just take some time to Google the word “steampunk”.

But there are things to dislike, too. The Last Airbender (not referring to the movie, just running out of things to call the series without the need of a colon) has filler, just like any other anime – and don’t get me wrong, this is an anime made in the West. There are several episodes that deliver questionable messages, and some of the season finales are a bit rushed when there could have been more build-up throughout the season.

If those things seem to even out, though, there is quite a bit more to look at. One of the defining features of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the way each character has an arc. Each season Aang faces a struggle that he must overcome. Katara, Sokka, Zuko and, to a lesser extent, other characters do too. The characters seen in the Book 3 finale are not the same ones seen in the Book 1 opening…but they’re all the results of a believable progression. The characters go through a remarkable variety of problems, ranging from the realistic (being faced with “masculine” women for the first time in a new culture) to the fantastic (restoring the moon after the villain of the week kills it).

While Avatar: The Last Airbender may not be the best thing ever to grace television, it’s not for lack of trying, and it’s certainly a contender for a title of some sort. In three seasons, Avatar: TLA tells a complete story, builds a complete world, and introduces some of the most amazing cartoon characters in Nickelodeon history. Yes, it has flaws, but pretty much everything does, and the ones here are small enough that I wouldn’t let them stop me from recommending it to anybody interested in anything I’ve described here.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that is made better in our minds by a combination of nostalgia, a terrible movie, and an average sequel. It is remembered as one of the best shows ever to air on Nickelodeon, but as public opinion of the show has been improving since the terrible M. Night Shyamalan adaptation pointed all all of the flaws it didn’t have, that’s not necessarily saying anything; Spongebob Square Pants would look like a masterpiece by comparison. So the question remains, how good isAvatar: TLA?

Well, there are certainly lots of things to like about Legend of Aang, as the show was called in parts of the world where airbending apparently refers to a real-world movement of the air. The characters are full and across the spectrum, from the brooding and angry anti-hero, to the gifted and child-like hero, to the wise and hilarious veteran, to the Muggle who wants to be more than the comic relief. The villains range from the power-mad, to mad at the world, to just mad. Avatar (as it was called prior to the James Cameron film) introduces a rich fantasy world, with many more elements than simply the superpowered beings that decide the power and ideological struggles of the world to make it fully unique (if somewhat obviously based on Eastern ideologies and religions). Unlike many fantasy worlds, however, this is a world that is changing and moving forward: introducing science. However, in a world where steam is as easy to obtain as a snap of the fingers, science takes a route more likely to appeal to fans. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just take some time to Google the word “steampunk”.

But there are things to dislike, too. The Last Airbender (not referring to the movie, just running out of things to call the series without the need of a colon) has filler, just like any other anime – and don’t get me wrong, this is an anime made in the West. There are several episodes that deliver questionable messages, and some of the season finales are a bit rushed when there could have been more build-up throughout the season.

If those things seem to even out, though, there is quite a bit more to look at. One of the defining features of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the way each character has an arc. Each season Aang faces a struggle that he must overcome. Katara, Sokka, Zuko and, to a lesser extent, other characters do too. The characters seen in the Book 3 finale are not the same ones seen in the Book 1 opening…but they’re all the results of a believable progression. The characters go through a remarkable variety of problems, ranging from the realistic (being faced with “masculine” women for the first time in a new culture) to the fantastic (restoring the moon after the villain of the week kills it).

While Avatar: The Last Airbender may not be the best thing ever to grace television, it’s not for lack of trying, and it’s certainly a contender for a title of some sort. In three seasons, Avatar: TLA tells a complete story, builds a complete world, and introduces some of the most amazing cartoon characters in Nickelodeon history. Yes, it has flaws, but pretty much everything does, and the ones here are small enough that I wouldn’t let them stop me from recommending it to anybody interested in anything I’ve described here.

Advertisements

One thought on “Television Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s